Who does not feel a suppressed start at the creaking of furniture in the dark of night? Who has not felt a shiver of goose flesh, controlled only by an effort of will? Who, in the dark, has not had the feeling of some thing behind him – and, in spite of his conscious reasoning, turned to look?
The Fascination of the Ghost Story by Arthur B. Reeve 1919
October is upon us, and as is tradition for me I have been hit with the Halloween spirit (excuse the pun). The origin of Halloween lies in Pagan Celtic tradition; the Celts believed that at this time of year the barrier between the living world and the afterlife was at its weakest, enabling the spirits of the dead to roam freely amongst us. Rather than being a morbid time, it was in fact a celebration known as Samhain. Activities that formed the Samhain celebration are not too dissimilar to our 21st Century Halloween customs; adorning the body in costumes made from animal skins and heads, fortune telling, and traditional games of apple bobbing.
This year I’ve foolishly decided that I want my Halloween to scare the living daylights out of me. So… I am going to witness ‘a unique tale of spine chilling terror, an original ghost story performed before a roaring log fire in a real haunted house. Inspired by true paranormal events.’ ‘What Stalks the Night?’ will take place at Croxteth Hall in Liverpool and I am petrified in anticipation.
The 210-room mansion was home to the Earls of Sefton for over 400 years. When the last Earl died in 1972 there was no heir for the estate to be passed down to; it therefore became the property of Liverpool City Council. Spirits are said to haunt Croxteth Hall and various sightings have been recorded; a boy standing by the fireplace in the dining room, a figure of a man in the billiard room, and even the 6th Earl of Sefton walking around the tea room! Smells and footsteps have also been witnessed inside the mansion. In April 2009, CCTV footage of the hall grounds captured a shadowy figure that appears to glide across the screen, take a look at the video and see what you think…
But do ghosts really exist?
Hampton Court Palace in Surrey is said to contain the ghost of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, the infamous Haunted Gallery was the scene of her desperate flee to plead to the King for her life before she was executed. The Historic Royal Palaces website describes an incident at the Palace that took place in 1999. During two separate tours of the property, two female visitors fainted in the Gallery on the exact same spot only half an hour apart. The Palace was one of two locations to feature in a psychological study of hauntings (Wiseman et al., 2003), the other being the Edinburgh South Bridge Vaults. Participants in the study were asked to record i) any prior knowledge of hauntings in the location, ii) unusual feelings experienced, and the precise location of these experiences. The researchers found a direct correlation between reporting of unusual experiences and locations that had a strong reputation for being haunted, however contrary to sceptical belief this was not due to participants’ prior knowledge of the haunted areas. However, when environmental factors were analysed it appeared that there was a correlation between factors such as magnetic fields, temperature, lighting and reporting of unusual experiences. The conclusion of the study suggested that unusual experiences in both locations were not due to ghostly goings-on but were in fact caused by environmental factors.
Believers 0 – Non-Believers 1. Don’t cancel your Halloween plans just yet though…
Christopher French, head of Goldsmith’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit tested the theory that environmental factors were the sole cause of haunting experiences (French et al. 2009). The team built a scientifically haunted room in a London row house, 9 feet in diameter and inside which infrasound waves were cast similar to those recorded in the allegedly haunted Coventry Castle. Sound waves producing electromagnetic frequency associated with paranormal feeling were also emitted into the haunted room. 79 participants were tested. After spending less than 1 hour in the room participants reported the following; dizziness, tingling, disembodiment, dream-remembrance and “a presence.” However, these sensations were not correlated with the manipulated infrasound and EMF and instead appeared to arise from suggestibility. French concluded that ‘the case for infrasound inducing haunt-type experiences now appears to be extremely weak.’
The definition according to the Cambridge Dictionary of American English:
ghost: (noun) the spirit of a dead person imagined as visiting the living and usually appearing as a pale, almost transparent form of the dead person. Research published in 2009 by the Public Theology Think Tank (Theos) revealed that almost four in 10 (39%) people in the UK believe in ghosts. Perhaps subconsciously we believe in ghosts because it reassures us that there is life after death? There is something comforting in the belief that we cannot explain everything, if ghosts exist our existential fear is slightly abated.
If the Celts were correct in their Samhain beliefs then the veils between our world and the spirit world are due to almost disappear in exactly 19 days. The possibility of a ghostly encounter could be greatly increased… you may wish to prepare your home to ward off those evil spirits!
Halloween events around the country I recommend:
Halloween Themed Dining at Warwick Castle and tours
Halloween Party at the UK’s only horror themed restaurant and club http://www.thehellfire.co.uk/events/2010-10-31/Halloween.html
Various events in and around London including a talk by Professor Chris French http://www.londonparanormal.com/lgf.htm
Vintage Halloween Party at Edinburgh’s best venue
Ghosthunting including overnight hunts!
Liverpool Ghost Tours
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